CIMMYT wheat research recognized for impact through highly-cited papers

Photo: Flickr/Tobias von der Haar

Three scientists working on wheat research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been recognized as 2020 recipients of the Clarivate™ Highly Cited Researchers list.

The honor recognizes exceptional research performance demonstrated by the production of multiple papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year, according to the Web of Science citation indexing service.

Called a “who’s who” of influential researchers, the list draws on data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information™ at Clarivate.

The 2020 CIMMYT honorees include:

  • Julio Huerta: CIMMYT-seconded wheat breeder and rust geneticist with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP)
  • Matthew Reynolds: CIMMYT Distinguished Scientist, wheat physiologist and member, Mexican Academy of Sciences
  • Ravi Singh: CIMMYT Distinguished Scientist and Head of Bread Wheat Improvement

“I congratulate my colleagues in the Global Wheat Program for this excellent recognition of their important work,” said incoming CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Alison Bentley.

Two Highly Cited Researcher certificates

The full 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list and executive summary can be found here.  

Wheat around the World: Celebrating International Whole Grain Day

Thursday, November 19 marks the International Whole Grain Day, and no one is more excited to celebrate it than your friends at the the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT)! Alongside our partners at CIMMYT, the CGIAR Research Programs on Wheat and Maize we have put together a tasting platter of our best work on whole grains—from explainers and research highlights to a crowd-sourced cookbook. Check out a few excerpts on wheat, and then head over to the CIMMYT 2020 Whole Grains Day Campaign for the full scoop!

The Cereal Serial, Episode 1

In the first installment of The Cereal Serial, CIMMYT’s maize and wheat quality experts Dr. Natalia Palacios and Dr. Itria Ibba explain what whole grains are and why they are an important part of a healthy diet. For a deeper dive into the subject, check out our whole grain explainer.

Wheat around the world

Take a virtual journey around the world to see the popular ways in which whole grains are eaten from Asia to the Americas. For the full photo story, check out the CIMMYT Photo Series.

For cookbooks, webinars, and groundbreaking research on nutrition and food security, visit the full CIMMYT 2020 International World Grain Day webpage, and share how YOU get your whole grain staples on social media with the #ChooseWholeGrains hashtag.

Read more here.

Constantly vigilant: Q&A with rust disease scientist Sridhar Bhavani

Sridhar Bhavani at a UG99 wheat stem rust screening event in Njoro, Kenya. Photo: University of Minnesota, David Hansen

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Senior Scientist and Head of Rust Pathology and Molecular Genetics Sridhar Bhavani has been fighting the spread of deadly wheat rusts for over 15 years.  He recently presented “A Decade of Stem Rust Phenotyping Network: Opportunities, Challenges and Way Forward” at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop in October.

We picked his brain about the growing danger of rust diseases, the newest weapons fighting them, and how researchers both within and outside the CGIAR system can best help wheat smallholder farmers in this seemingly never-ending battle.


Q: It seems like the rust races keep mutating, growing, and spreading and crop breeders and scientists are constantly in a position of reacting. Is this happening faster than in the past or does it just seem that way? Is this a factor of climate change, less diverse modern varieties, something else? Will we ever get ahead of the curve?

A: That’s right. Such events can in part be attributed to climate change. In the case of yellow rust races, we have seen the evolution of new aggressive races that are adapted to warmer temperatures in the last two decades, an unusual acclimatization for this disease. These races initiate early infection and with faster disease progression,  produce large amounts of spores and rapidly evolve to overcome resistant genes. The northern Himalayan region has been identified as a diversity hotspot for these aggressive races, resulting in significant yield losses and global migration of these races.

Interestingly, stem rust races of the Ug99 group have also adapted to cooler environments at altitudes over 3000 meters, which have been identified in the foothills of Mt. Kenya. Recent reports of stem rust variants of the “Digelu” race group, which has resurfaced in the United Kingdom and Europe, is a grave concern considering that the disease was practically under control for over 30 years.

Such diverse, fast-evolving, migrating populations pose a great challenge for breeding programs to continuously scout and deploy new resistant genes. For example, in Mexico, a new race with virulence has evolved every other year over the course of 12 years.

The lack of diversity of resistance genes (genetic uniformity) or combinations of multiple genes in varieties occupying vast production areas (mega varieties) compounds the issue of climate change. This can result in significant yield losses when resistant genes break down.

Different approaches have been used to enhance resistance durability, enabling breeders to stay ahead of the curve:

  • Pyramiding: Combining 2-3 resistance genes in a single variety makes it difficult for pathogens to overcome multiple genes at once.
  • Deploying complex race- non-specific pleotropic adult plant resistance (APR) genes: These genes, such as Sr2, Lr34, Lr46, Lr67 and Lr68, condition partial resistance against multiple diseases (leaf rust, stem rust, yellow rust, powdery mildew, etc.) and are present in CIMMYT germplasm. Combinations of three to four APR genes can enhance resistance to near-immune levels. Though cumbersome, it has been quite effective to keep rust under control over the last two decades.
  • Transgenic cassette approach: It is now possible to transform wheat lines with a cassette of up to eight multiple-cloned resistance genes. This approach stacks multiple resistance genes in the same cultivar and can enhance durability for longer periods. However, current regulatory framework in developed and developing nations doesn’t allow cultivation of transgenic wheat.
Stem rust. Photo: David Hansen, University of Minnesota

Q: What do you think are the areas where the global crop science/agricultural policy community can do better to help smallholder farmers?

A: The community should focus on developing long-term sustainable solutions:

  • Focus on genetic solutions for resource-poor smallholder farmers who lack access to fungicides
  • Eliminate older, susceptible varieties from wheat production areas.
  • Improve rapid dissemination of tools and technologies through on-farm trials and demonstrations, efficient seed systems, strong national extension networks and communities of practice.
  • Enhance national-level emergency preparedness for crop disease. A country’s response time and ability to contain the infected area and mitigate the damage through both immediate and long-term solutions makes a huge difference.
  • Promote policies that fast-track release, multiplication and testing time of improved resistant varieties, which historically takes six to eight years from the time the line is developed.  

Sridhar inspects rust-infected wheat crops. Photo: David Hansen, University of Minnesota

Q: Where do you see your field of research 20 years from now?  Where do you see the global rust situation 20 years from now? What are you concerned about or optimistic about?

A: I am optimistic that recent advances in sequencing-annotated wheat reference genomes and detailed analyses of gene content among sub-genomes will accelerate our understanding of bread wheat genetics. Wheat breeders can now use this information to identify agronomic traits, like grain quality, yield, abiotic stress tolerance and disease resistance.

Furthermore, the global rust monitoring and surveillance network has helped to understand pathogenic diversity in different geographies and possible migration patterns; and develop early forecasts and warning measures in risk-prone areas. These tools enable breeders to stay ahead of the race, and pre-emptive breeding helps them prepare for incursion of new races.

One of my bigger concerns is the “yield is king” mindset in developed countries. High-yielding but rust-susceptible varieties are being promoted with the view that the yield benefit will compensate for the cost of fungicides in disease years. Since this notion is also being promoted in developing countries, a major epidemic–coupled with fungicide supply shortages–can lead to disasters that will seriously impact smallholder farmers.


Q: Do you see the coming reform of CGIAR as having an impact on rust screening and resistance research?  Do you have a message for funders and/or those who are setting the One CGIAR research agenda?

A: Disease and pest resistance for crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry should be high on the agenda. We have witnessed significant impact of pest and pathogen resurgence in the last decade, beyond rust races. The variability and constant evolution of pests puts extreme pressure on breeders and researchers to be constantly vigilant against the emergence of new races, biotypes or strains.

Several threats have been effectively mitigated through global collaboration for surveillance and breeding. This facilitates screening and selection at hot spot sites and accelerates varietal release and adoption. Information-sharing partnerships to detect changes in virulence patterns would greatly reduce the need for fungicide and promote greater stability and sustainability of yield across agricultural environments.

A multidisciplinary approach involving pathologists, breeders, geneticists, physiologists, agronomists, simulation specialists and upstream bioinformaticians at different stages of research and development will be necessary to develop improved cultivars with stable and durable resistance to pests and diseases.

View Sridhar Bhavani’s full BGRI Workshop Presentation, “A Decade of Stem Rust Phenotyping Network: Opportunities, Challenges and Way Forward”


Press release: Rust-resistant bread wheat varieties widely adopted in Ethiopia, study shows

Researchers used DNA fingerprinting to track adoption in Ethiopia. Investments and innovative policy decisions are increasing farmer incomes and national wheat productivity. Varieties originating from CIMMYT have made a significant contribution.

Wheat field in Ethiopia. Photo: ILRI/ Apollo Habtamu.

Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), November 9, 2020.

A state-of-the-art study of plant DNA provides strong evidence that farmers in Ethiopia have widely adopted new, improved rust-resistant bread wheat varieties since 2014.

The results obtained from 4,000 plots, published in Nature Scientific Reports, found that nearly half (47%) of the area sampled was grown to varieties 10 years old or younger and the majority (61%) of these were released after 2005.

Four of the top varieties sown were recently-released rust-resistant varieties developed through the breeding programs of the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

This is the first nationally representative, large-scale wheat DNA fingerprinting study undertaken in Ethiopia. The study was led by scientists at CIMMYT in partnership with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency (CSA) and Diversity Array Technologies (DArT).

“These results validate years of international investment and national policies that have worked to promote, distribute and fast-track the release of wheat varieties with the traits that farmers have asked for — particularly resistance to crop-destroying wheat rust disease,” said CIMMYT Principal Scientist Dave Hodson, the lead author of the study.

Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Ethiopian government recently announced a goal to become self-sufficient in wheat, and increasing domestic wheat production is a national priority.

Widespread adoption of these improved varieties, demonstrated by DNA fingerprinting, has clearly had a positive impact on both economic returns and national wheat production gains.  Initial estimates show that farmers gained an additional 225,500 ton of extra production – valued at $50 million — by using varieties released after 2005.   

The results validate investments in wheat improvement made by international donor agencies, notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO, formerly DFID), the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ethiopian government. Their success in speeding up variety release and seed multiplication in Ethiopia is considered a model for other countries.

 “This is good news for Ethiopian farmers, who are seeing better incomes from higher yielding, disease-resistant wheat, and for the Ethiopian government, which has put a high national priority on increasing domestic wheat production and reducing dependence on imports,” said EIAR Deputy Director General Chilot Yirga.

This study also confirmed the substantial contribution of CGIAR to national breeding efforts, with 90% of the area sampled containing wheat varieties released by Ethiopian wheat breeding programs derived from CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) germplasm.

Varieties developed using germplasm received from CIMMYT covered 87% of the wheat area surveyed.

Adoption studies provide a fundamental measure of the success and effectiveness of agricultural research and investment. However, obtaining accurate information on the diffusion of crop varieties remains a challenging endeavor.

DNA fingerprinting enables researchers to identify the variety present in samples or plots, based on a comprehensive reference library of the genotypes of known varieties. In Ethiopia, over 94% of plots could be matched with known varieties. This provides data that is vastly more accurate than traditional farmer-recall surveys.

“When we compared DNA fingerprinting results with the results from a survey of farmers’ memory of the same plots, we saw that only 28% of farmers correctly named wheat varieties grown,” explained Hodson.

The resulting data helps national breeding programs adjust their seed production to meet demand, and national extension agents focus on areas that need better access to seed. It also helps scientists, policymakers, donors and organizations such as CIMMYT track their impact and prioritize funding, support, and the direction of future research.

“This research demonstrates that DNA fingerprinting can be applied at scale, and is likely to transform future crop varietal adoption studies. Additional DNA fingerprinting studies are now also well advanced for maize in Ethiopia” concluded CIMMYT Senior Scientist Kindie Tesfaye, co-author of the study and lead of the associated BMGF funded project.

The study authors greatly acknowledge the support of partnering institutions and financial support from the Mainstreaming the use and application of DNA Fingerprinting in Ethiopia for tracking crop varieties project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Grant number OPP1118996).

—– ENDS —–

RELATED RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS:  

Ethiopia’s Transforming Wheat Landscape: Tracking Variety Use through DNA Fingerprinting

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Dave Hodson – Principal Scientist, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

Chilot Yirga – Deputy Director General, Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO ARRANGE INTERVIEWS, CONTACT THE MEDIA TEAM:

Geneviève Renard, Head of Communications, CIMMYT. g.renard@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2019.

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager, CIMMYT. r.ordonez@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 1167.

Chilot Yirga – Deputy Director General, Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), cyirga.tizale@gmail.com

ABOUT CIMMYT:

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information, visit www.cimmyt.org.

ABOUT EIAR

As a national research institute, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) aspires to see improved livelihood of all Ethiopians engaged in agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism through market-competitive agricultural technologies.

This research is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CGIAR Fund Donors.


ICARDA scientists win the Crop Science Society of America 2020 Outstanding Paper Award

CSSA

We are pleased to share findings from our partners at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). The following is excerpted from a post by ICARDA highlighting their recent and well-deserved award for outstanding research funded in-part by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

ICARDA is thrilled to announce that the 2020 Outstanding Paper Award of Crop Science Journal by the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) went to the  paper titled “Root System Architecture and Its Association with Yield under Different Water Regimes in Durum Wheat.” It explores the genetic variability for mature root traits among 25 durum genotypes by adapting low‐cost phenotyping methods and determining the effect of different root types on yield under moisture stress.

The CSSA is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, recognized as one of the premier showcases of agricultural scientific research. After careful consideration by a subset of the Crop Science Editorial Board and other member-scientists, the article was selected based on how it has advanced knowledge in the profession, the effectiveness of communication, methodology, originality, and impact.

ICARDA scientists: lead author K. ElHassouni on the left and Filippo Bassi on the right

“It is exciting to have validated low-cost methods that will allow many people around the world to take a hard look at the root of the problem. Fighting against drought is an uphill battle, and we have known for a very long time that roots would be our greatest ally in this fight. Up until now, we did not have any easy way of doing that. I truly hope that this recognition will prompt more work on roots.”

– Senior author Filippo Bassi, ICARDA

Read the full story here.

This study was funded by the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). 

Sowing seeds of the future

Alison Bentley, the incoming director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, completed her formal education at the University of Sydney in Australia, with support from the Crawford Fund. In the blog below, originally posted on the website of the Crawford Fund, Alison Bentley looks back at her early career and the lessons she will take to her new role at CIMMYT.


Alison at the Crawford Fund Master Class in Turkey, 2003.

By Alison Bentley

In November 2020, I’ll be moving (at least in the virtual sense, given current travel restrictions) to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico, to lead the Global Wheat Program (GWP). CIMMYT’s GWP has an incredible track record of impact, delivering varieties and germplasm to support wheat production throughout the world.

My first experience of working with CIMMYT was in 2003 as an attendee at the first Crawford Master Class on Soil-Borne Pathogens of Wheat in Turkey, hosted by Dr. Julie Nicol (the then-CIMMYT soil-borne disease pathologist) and colleagues. As a new PhD student at The University of Sydney in Australia, this was an incredible scientific experience with the course encompassing field visits, lab practicals and lectures from leading scientists (including my PhD supervisor Professor Lester Burgess). In addition, it was my first visit to the Central West Asia & North Africa (CWANA) region and an opportunity to interact with CWANA wheat scientists.

Beyond the scientific learning, I remember the lunchtime football matches, social events and sense of excitement in our discussions about new ideas and future impacts. I was also fortunate to have financial support from the Crawford Fund NSW Committee to stay on in Turkey to conduct a survey of soil-borne diseases of wheat (supporting my PhD research). What a privilege it was to travel around Turkey with Dr. Berna Tunali from the University of Ondokus Mayýs, sampling wheat fields by day and eating grilled fish by the Coast of Marmara by night.

The collaboration allowed us to conduct a quantitative survey of the community of Fusarium species associated with wheat in northern production regions. It also provided me with a firm view of the context of my PhD research and of how working with partners greatly enhances the value (and enjoyment) of scientific research.

From these early months of my PhD spent in Turkey to its progression and completion (including international collaborations with Plant & Food New Zealand, Kansas State University, Cornell University and national collaborations with the South Australia Research and Development Institute and the Western Australia Department of Agriculture), I further learned the value of partnerships and collaboration. I also came to fully appreciate the importance of understanding context: what does the challenge look like in the field or system it is relevant to, how will change be implemented and by who? My supervisor Lester Burgess often cited “serendipity,” and it always struck me that what he was actually describing was not really pure good fortune, but the result of “making your own luck.”

I recall many days in northwest New South Wales driving long stretches on the trail of crown rot infections in farm crops and conversations with agronomists asking for tip-offs on recent sightings of disease. This process led to many important discoveries, notably for my PhD: the nature of sexual reproduction by the crown rot fungus and an understanding of spatial relationships of genetic variation in the field.

Alison Bentley (right) and Martin Jones (left) in the glasshouse at NIAB. Photo credit: Toby Smith/Gloknos.

The time spent talking to agronomists, visiting farms and conducting field surveys proved invaluable to my PhD. When I moved to the United Kingdom and joined the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in 2007 it was my foundational starting point. At NIAB, I joined the team embarking on a pioneering program of wheat pre-breeding to deliver systematically developed and validated resources for wheat improvement. When it started, this translational program aimed to bridge the gap between fundamental discoveries in model plant species and commercial breeding. It has led to the production of a wealth of genetic resources in commercially relevant genetic backgrounds for rapid uptake into breeding.

The program outputs to date include precisely defined germplasm (near-isogenic lines), user-friendly high-throughput genetic markers (for marker assisted selection), multi-founder populations and re-synthesised wheat incorporating untapped genetic diversity.

The resources developed at NIAB and by other institutes and universities have resulted in the UK having arguably one of the most prolific public sector germplasm creation programs worldwide outside the CGIAR. This has resulted in interest from both the research and breeding sector, leveraging significant public- and private-sector investment. Breeding programs in Europe, South and North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia have accessed material, indicative of global impact and success.

In moving to CIMMYT, I take forward the many lessons I have learned since my first Crawford Fund-supported visit to Turkey back in 2003. That visit was the seed of my future motivation to deliver science-led solutions to support global wheat production. My subsequent PhD research and time at NIAB have multiplied that seed into vast fields. CIMMYT, and CGIAR breeding deliver improved wheat germplasm into the hands of farmers. Seeds multiplied into fields multiplied into support for global farming communities.

International Wheat Yield Partnership launches European Winter Wheat Hub

New hub joins existing network of large translational pipelines operating on spring wheat at CIMMYT in Mexico

Winter wheat. Photo: Flickr/pepperberryfarms

This press release was originally posted on the website of the International Wheat Yield Partnership.

Building on a wealth of existing investment in UK wheat research and development, including the UK Research and Innovation BBSRC-funded Designing Future Wheat programme (DFW), the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) has formed a new European Winter Wheat Hub that will accelerate research discoveries from the UK and globally into commercial plant breeding.

A public-private partnership, the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will combine novel traits discovered by collaborative international teams into a range of high performing European winter wheat genetic backgrounds for assessment and use in winter wheat breeding programs.

The global agriculture companies BASF, KWS, RAGT and Syngenta, in collaboration with the UK National Institute for Agricultural Botany (NIAB), will provide a translational pipeline supporting European winter wheat improvement. In partnership with IWYP, commercial breeders will select key genetic discoveries of potential value for the European wheat community from global IWYP research projects. NIAB will then use its
expertise in pre-breeding to produce genetic material for the validation and development of selected IWYP research outputs.

Joining the wider existing IWYP Hub Network of large translational pipelines operating on spring wheat at CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) in Mexico and the recently established NIFA-IWYP Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub at Kansas State University, USA, the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will ensure that cutting-edge discoveries are rapidly available to both the participating wheat breeders and to the global wheat breeding community.

“This is another excellent example of how public-private partnerships (such as the DFW, the Wheat Initiative and IWYP) can work well at both the international and national level,” said Dr. Chris Tapsell from KWS, who is leading the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub development.

“And this hub will help ensure that the hard work of the IWYP researchers around the world will deliver impacts that address the twin challenges of increasing wheat production for food security whilst protecting the environment.”

Jeff Gwyn, who leads the IWYP program said, “The addition of this new hub further strengthens the IWYP Hub Network and enables the development of our innovations to reach a wider industry base more rapidly. It is critical for IWYP to have its research outputs taken up and utilized for the public good. Public-private partnerships such as this further demonstrate that the IWYP initiative is filling a significant gap and creating value.”

Tina Barsby, CEO of NIAB commented, “NIAB has a strong track record in pre-breeding of wheat and particularly in working closely with commercial breeders to bring new variability to the market. We are really looking forward to helping to advance IWYP project traits into breeding programs.”

For further information about the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub please contact Chris Tapsell (KWS): chris.tapsell@kws.com.

For further information about IWYP please contact Jeff Gwyn (IWYP):
jeff.gwyn@ag.tamu.edu.


The IWYP program is based on an innovative model for public funding and international scientific collaboration to address the global grand challenge of food, nutritional and economic security for the future. The model employs public-private partnerships to scale and drive its research innovations for impact. Operations require active coordination of the international research and development teams whose discovery research focuses on complementary and overlapping sets of potentially high impact novel trait targets deemed likely to underpin yield increases, such as the regulation of photosynthesis, optimal plant architecture, plant biomass
distribution, and grain number and size. As the results emerge, it is possible to envisage how to combine them and therefore simultaneously remove multiple constraints affecting yields in farmers’ fields. https://iwyp.org/


NIAB is an independent plant biosciences organisation working to translate fundamental research into innovative solutions and products for the agricultural sector. The IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will leverage established expertise in wheat genetics and breeding at NIAB, including newly developed glasshouse and molecular laboratory facilities.
https://www.niab.com/


BASF, KWS, RAGT and Syngenta are innovation-led leaders in the wheat breeding industry, developing varieties that deliver consistent year-on-year genetics gain for the benefit of wheat growers throughout Europe and North America. All companies are active members of IWYP and launched this initiative to speed up and ensure the effective utilisation of deliverables from IWYP research projects, which are funded by partners across the globe including the BBSRC in the UK.
www.kws.com
www.ragt.fr
www.basf.com
www.syngenta.com

CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) is a non-profit international agricultural research and training organization focusing on two of the world’s most important cereal grains: maize and wheat, and related cropping systems and livelihoods. www.cimmyt.org

Dave Hodson highlights “major breakthroughs” in rust disease response at the 2020 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop

By Madeline Dahm

Dave Hodson, principal scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), examined over a decade of progress from global partners in the battle to detect and respond to global wheat rust diseases at a keynote address at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshop in early October.

International training participants learning to evaluate stem rust symptoms on wheat. Photo: Petr Kosina/CIMMYT.

Rust response in the 2000s: sounding the alarm

When the first signs of Ug99 – a deadly strain of wheat stem rust – were noticed in Uganda in 1998, farmers and researchers did not understand the full threat of this disease, or where it would travel next. After Nobel Prize-winning breeder Norman Borlaug sounded the alarm to world leaders, the BGRI was formed and stakeholders from around the world came together to discuss this quickly growing problem. They realized that first, they must develop effective monitoring and surveillance systems to track the pathogen.

Starting in 2008, the initial vision for the global rust monitoring system was developed and the first steps taken to build the global rust surveillance community. Expanding surveillance networks requires a strong database, increased capacity development and well-established national focal points. With standardized surveillance protocols, training and GPS units distributed to over 29 countries, data began to flow more efficiently into the system. This, combined with a preliminary study of the influence of wind and rainfall patterns, improved scientists’ ability to predict areas of higher risk. Furthermore, the group knew that it would be key to integrate race analysis data, expand access to information and eventually expand the system to include other rusts as well.

“Fast forward to today, and we’re now looking at one of the world’s largest international crop disease monitoring systems. We have over 39,000 geo-referenced survey records from >40 countries in the database now, and 9500+ rust isolate records,” said Hodson.

Implementation  of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects – predecessors to Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG)  – and other key projects advanced this surveillance system, providing early warnings of potential rust epidemics to scientists and farmers.

An important part of this success comes from the Global Rust Reference Center in Denmark, where scientists have put together a state-of-the-art data management system, known as the “Wheat Rust Toolbox,”; providing a flexible centralized database,  rapid data input from mobile devices, data export and a suite of database-driven display tools. The system is flexible enough to handle multiple crops and multiple diseases, including all three wheat rusts.  

A united front

Another critical element to this surveillance system is a global network of rust pathotyping labs around the world. 

“We currently have good surveillance coverage across the world, especially the developing country wheat-growing areas,” says Hodson. “Coupling sampling from that survey network to these labs have enabled us to track the pathogen.”

This is particularly important in the face of a rapidly mutating pathogen. Not only are new variants of Ug99 appearing and spreading, but also other important new races of stem rust are being detected and spreading in places as far-flung as Sicily, Sweden, Siberia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Georgia. In many regions, we are seeing a re-emergence of stem rust as a disease of concern.

“We now know there are 14 races of Ug99 confirmed across 13 countries. We have seen increased virulence of the pathogen, it  is mutating and migrating, and [has] spread over large distances.”

Furthermore, yellow rust has emerged as a disease of major global importance. The spread of yellow rust and appearance of highly virulent new races seems to be increasing over time. Several regions are now experiencing large-scale outbreaks as a result of the incursion of new races. For example, in South America, causing one of the largest outbreaks in 30 years.

Major breakthroughs in prediction and surveillance

Despite the increased spread and virulence of wheat rusts, the global community of partners has made serious advances in prediction, tracking and treatment of pathogens.

The University of Cambridge and the UK Met Office have developed advanced spore dispersal and epidemiological models for wheat rusts, resulting in a major leap forward in terms of understanding rust movements and providing a foundation for operational, in-season early warning systems. Operational, early warning is already a reality in Ethiopia and similar systems are now being tested in South Asia.

“These models are actually able to predict many of the movements we are now seeing globally,” says Hodson.

“In Ethiopia, information is going out to partners in weekly advisories, as well as targeted SMS alerts using the 8028 farmer hotline developed by the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), with over 4 million subscribers. It makes it possible to get ahead of the disease in key areas–a major breakthrough,” he said, noting plans underway to expand the system to more countries.

In addition, innovative diagnostics such as  the award-winning MARPLE rapid, field-based diagnostic tool developed with the John Innes Centre and Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), are transforming the time it takes to detect potentially damaging new races. Resulting in more opportunities for early warning and timely, effective control responses.

The future of wheat research and disease management 

“Clearly, we’re going to need more multidisciplinary approaches to combat these increasing threats from transboundary diseases,” he says, though very optimistic for the future of wheat rust disease forecasting, early warning systems and diagnostics.

Thanks to a “truly fantastic” global community of partners and donors, the global scientific community has built one of the world’s largest crop disease monitoring systems to track and combat aggressive, rapidly spreading wheat rust diseases. Its continued success will depend on embracing state of the art technology – from molecular diagnostics to artificial intelligence – and developing a plan for long-term sustainability.


Against the grain: New paper reveals the overlooked health benefits of maize and wheat

Cereals offer greater health and nutrition benefits than commonly acknowledged, despite often being considered “nutrient-poor,” say scientists.

Hands hold wheat grain from harvest near Belbur, Nakuru, Kenya. (Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT)
Hands hold wheat grain from harvest near Belbur, Nakuru, Kenya. (Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT)

Cereal crops like maize and wheat deserve greater consideration as part of a healthy, nutritious diet, according to the authors of a new paper.

A review of agri-nutrition research and dietary guidance found that the potential health benefits provided by cereals were often overlooked or undervalued as part of nutritious diets, including their role in reducing non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

The study identified two key explanations for the oversight. The first is that many cereal crops with varying nutritional qualities are indiscriminately grouped under the broad category of “staples.”

A second problem lies in the fact that cereals are usually considered to be a major source of dietary energy alone. However, reducing nutritional attributes to macro- and micro-nutrients misses other beneficial elements of cereals known as “bioactive food components.” These include carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols, and compounds that comprise dietary fiber.

“Most whole grain cereals provide differing amounts of proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins, in addition to being important sources of dietary energy,” said Jason Donovan, a senior economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and co-author of the paper published in Food Policy.

“Only relative to other ‘nutrient-rich’ foodstuffs can cereals be described as ‘nutrient-poor’.”

In the paper, entitled Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health, the authors called on researchers and policymakers to embrace the multiple dietary components of cereals in addressing under- and over-nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and the growing global problem of non-communicable diseases.

“Through increasing the availability of, and access to, healthy foods derived from cereals, we can better address the growing triple burden of malnutrition that many countries are facing,” said Olaf Erenstein, co-author and director of CIMMYT’s Socioeconomics program.

“To feed the world within planetary boundaries, current intakes of whole grain foods should more than double and address tricky issues like the current over-processing, to make the most of the nutrition potential of maize and wheat.”

While some carbohydrates can create a glycemic response that has negative effects on diabetes and obesity, dietary fiber in cereals comprises carbohydrates that are fermented in the large intestine with largely positive metabolic and health effects.

In addition, the naturally-occurring compounds found in maize and wheat can be enhanced through conventional breeding, genomic selection and bio- and industrial-fortification to offer enriched levels of beneficial components.

For example, scientists at CIMMYT have worked on new maize and wheat varieties with additional levels of vitamin A and zinc to help address some of the nutritional deficiencies found worldwide. Researchers are also improving how cereals are produced, processed, and stored to increase productivity and improve food safety while maintaining their nutritional benefits.

One of challenges in maximizing the nutritional benefit of cereal-based foods in diets is that the processing of grains often causes substantial losses of essential vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, manufacturing industries create ultra-processed foods that often contain noxious qualities and components, which contribute directly to the significant and increasing global health and economic costs of non-communicable diseases.

“If we are to end hunger by delivering healthy, diverse and nutritional diets in the next decade, we need a broader and more nuanced understanding of the nutritional and health-promoting value of diverse foods, including cereals,” added Nigel Poole, co-author and Professor of International Development at SOAS University, London.

“Cereals and so-called ‘nutrient-rich’ foods are complementary in agri-nutrition, both of which require additional research, resources and attention so that one does not replace the other.”

RELATED PUBLICATIONS:

Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR INTERVIEW REQUESTS:

Donna Bowater, Marchmont Communications, donna@marchmontcomms.com, +44 7929 212 534

This piece was originally posted by The International Maize and What Improvement Center (CIMMYT):

CIMMYT is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information visit www.cimmyt.org

See our coverage of World Food Day 2020.
See our coverage of World Food Day 2020.

The “hidden backbone of rural farming:” Insights from COVID-19 impacts on female dryland farmers

To mark the International Day of Rural Women, we share findings from our partners at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). The following is excerpted from a post by ICARDA Gender Scientist Dina Najjar and University of Western Ontario Professor Bipasha Baruah.

The 2020 International Day of Rural Women’s theme is “Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19.” Through a survey carried out with 100 male and 100 female dryland farmers in rural Egypt and Tunisia, we examine how COVID-19 affected them, and the coping mechanisms they employed to maintain crop and livestock supplies, sales, market connections, and personal wellbeing.

The study uncovers the often undervalued and hidden contribution that women make to rural dryland farming practices. It suggests that building women’s resilience to the impact of COVID-19 and even afterward, through better transport, consistent and affordable supplies of feedstock and other agricultural inputs, digital access, and on domestic issues, is a good place to start for strengthening the resilience of households and whole communities. Given the global resurgence of COVID-19 and its expected long-term effects, now, more than ever, we should not overlook what women are already offering.

Read the full study summary here.

This research is funded by the UN IFAD CLCA Phase II project, mapped to the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) and the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) and Livestock.